Unions demand working-class MPs

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The Independent Online
TRADE UNIONS could be given a greater say over the selection of MPs under plans drawn up by the Labour Party to fend off claims that it has abandoned "working-class" candidates.

The move to allow individual unions to have their own selection panels will be put before next month's party conference in an attempt to head off criticism that Labour is being dominated by middle-class professionals.

It follows the announcement by the engineering union, the AEEU, yesterday that it had set up a pounds 1m fighting fund to help get more working-class people into parliament.

The Tory opposition seized on the plans as evidence that Labour had still failed to shrug off the shackles of its union paymasters.

Labour intends to overhaul its parliamentary selection procedures completely at next month's party conference, creating panels approved by the National Executive Committee (NEC) to vet and interview candidates.

Left-wingers were worried that an approved list of candidates selected centrally would be a ploy to elect New Labour professionals and "luvvies", but the party confirmed to The Independent that unions wouldhave a major role.

A Labour Party spokesman said: "We do want more working-class MPs and that is precisely why this measure is being proposed.

"It will be possible for an individual union to organise its own pre- endorsed selection panel, as long as it follows our procedures."

A three or four-member panel would select candidates who would go before local parties for a one-member one-vote ballot. The NEC would then have only to rubber-stamp the union- endorsed candidates. Unions would also retain their right to put nominations to local parties.

The AEEU decided to put pounds 1m into training working-class candidates after research from Aberdeen University showed that only 13 per cent of the 418 serving Labour MPs have a background of manual work - the lowest proportion in the party's history.

The AEEU claims that its criticism has particular resonance as it has been a strong backer of New Labour, contributing pounds 2m to help the party win office last year.

Ken Jackson, the general secretary of the union, said that the campaign was all about making sure there were still MPs who knew what life was like on the shopfloor.

"It was the AEEU that fought vigorously to bring Labour back in touch with ordinary working people," he said.

"Our fear is that a small minority, by preventing working people from representing New Labour, may leave them behind once again. That would be bad news for the Labour Party."

However, the move to give unions their own selection panels was welcomed, Mr Jackson said.

An AEEU senior officer said: "Any move from the Labour Party to increase the number of working people in parliament ... would be welcome."

John Redwood, the Tory trade and industry spokesman, said: "We have been told for several years that Labour is no longer in thrall to the unions. This proves that no matter what they say, by their actions they are planning to give even greater control over their affairs to the unions."